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Effects of vegetation on nest microclimate and breeding performance of lesser black-backed gulls (Larus fuscus)

Abstract

For birds that breed in large colonies, the overall area occupied by the colony generally comprises several sub-areas that differ in physical and social features such as vegetation and breeding density. Birds arriving at a breeding colony select their nesting sites through a hierarchical process of selecting a sub-area, then a particular nest site with appropriate biotic and physical attributes. Optimal vegetation cover is one such important attribute. Many ground nesting gulls preferentially select nest sites that provide shelter during reproduction, but this presumably has to be balanced against any costs such as reduced visibility of potential predators. The effects of vegetation height in the sub-areas within a colony, and of the amount of vegetation in the immediate vicinity of the nest on nest microclimate were investigated in lesser black-backed gulls Larus fuscus in a colony in which overall vegetation height differed in different sub-areas and was patchily distributed within these areas. Tall vegetation did have a sheltering effect, and this was positively related with chick growth. However, this vegetation area was associated with lower breeding densities, relatively late laying birds and lower chick survival rate, suggesting that sub-areas with tall vegetation held more lower-quality or young breeders. Within the sub-areas, the birds preferentially selected nest sites with more surrounding vegetation, and this was positively correlated with their hatching success.

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Acknowledgements

We are very grateful to Liliana D’Alba who provided invaluable help in fieldwork. We also thank Maria Bogdanova, Kampanat Tharapoom and Nanette Verboven for advice and help during field season, and Kevin Murphy for helpful discussion on the research protocol. Trish Chadwick and Mick Venters of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust kindly allowed S.-Y. Kim to carry out the research in the South Walney Nature Reserve. Peter H. Becker and Arie L. Spaans provided constructive criticism to improve the manuscript. S.-Y. Kim is funded by a University of Glasgow postgraduate research scholarship and the Overseas Research Scheme. The investigations we performed did not involve any licensed procedures and complied with the current laws of the UK. The eggs used for measurement of cooling rate were collected by M. Bogdanova and N. Verboven for their experimental manipulations under English Nature licenses.

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Correspondence to Sin-Yeon Kim.

Additional information

Communicated by P.H. Becker

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Kim, S., Monaghan, P. Effects of vegetation on nest microclimate and breeding performance of lesser black-backed gulls (Larus fuscus). J Ornithol 146, 176–183 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-005-0077-6

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Keywords

  • Breeding performance
  • Habitat selection
  • Larus fuscus
  • Microclimate
  • Nest vegetation